Last week I went to Ventura to speak to a group of women. My cousin Megan had invited me. This was not a difficult audience; I felt like we were all part of the same tribe – women, wives and mothers. Easy-peasy, I thought. However any time I am going to get up in front of an audience, I like to collect my thoughts before I go on. I usually excuse myself for a last minute trip to the bathroom, so no one sees me closing my eyes and centering myself. If they see a random woman in the audience doing some deep breathing, that’s one thing. If that random woman, suddenly becomes the “expert” they are supposed to be listening to, I think it affects my credibility.
So before she introduced me, Megan led me to the little bathroom in the back of the meeting room and left me to my own devices. And as I took my first deep breath, it hit me.
This isn’t hard.
I am not saying that public speaking isn’t challenging, or that I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what I want to say and how I’m going to say it, because I do.
But on the day before this day, this day when I was crouched in a bathroom, trying to do deep breathing exercises (while not gagging on the smell of cleaning fluids), I had received an email that a mother I know, a mother I call a friend, a mother of 4 children, had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.
So when I went to center myself, I was immediately thrown off-center by the realization that my friend may be off-center for a very long time to come, that she was probably in the furthest orbit she had ever been in from her center in her entire life. That when you receive a cancer diagnosis as a mother of 4 children, still at home, who still consider you the center of their entire existence, your own center pretty much looks like a nuclear bomb just went off.
Obviously I’m just guessing here. I’ve not faced it myself, but I do have a little bit of history with mothers, with mothers of four children, with mothers of four children and a cancer diagnosis.
When I was 15 years old, my own mother was diagnosed with cancer, Acute Myeloid Leukemia, to be exact. I was the second eldest of her four children, ranging in age from 16 to 6 years old. She was 39 years old and it was not looking good. One day our mom was home and the next day, she was gone, not to return for almost 4 months. Chemo, radiation, isolation and a bone marrow transplant, fifty miles away from home, were on the docket.
She survived; we all survived. In fact, we thrived.
Our center was still there; it was just in a “geographically undesirable” location – on the 11th floor of the UCLA hospital. Instead of gravitating home after school, we gravitated up the 405 Freeway. Instead of relying on her to center us all the time, we centered each other. We also became the center of our school, church and community. My older brother Charlie became the family chauffer. I became the homework helper and babysitter. Tim and Amy, 9 and 6 respectively, became amazingly adaptable and compliant, endearingly so. There was nothing we wouldn’t have done for them. And there was nothing that people wouldn’t do for us, if we simply asked and frequently when we didn’t. At that time in our lives, nothing seemed impossible, if we stuck together.
And when our Mom got home, our center moved to the family room couch and slept and drank Ensure and got stronger every day for a year, until finally she was up and around and dancing and skiing and cooking burned chicken again – just like she used to.
So on that morning last week, before I stepped up in front of 40 women, I was extremely grateful for that new perspective. This isn’t hard. It’s my new motto. What my friend has to do is hard. What my mom had to do was hard. What sick women and men and children all over the world do every day is hard.
Fighting cancer is hard.
Since that morning, any time something uncomfortable, or painful, or challenging comes up, I think of my friend. I remember, This isn’t hard, and I go on and I do it – better, braver, and more happily. Glennon Melton always reminds her readers that We Can Do Hard Things, but I think it’s even easier when we remember what the hard things really are.
So to my friend, and to all the women and men and children out there who are fighting against a diagnosis you do not want, a disease you cannot control, a tragedy that has thrown you off-center, know how much you are loved, how much we respect your fight and your process. Know that we are here to help. I believe with all my heart and soul that you are held lovingly by The Center of the universe and if you can trust in that, you will find your own center once again. Until that time, we will keep you at the center of our prayers, our love and support and hope it helps.
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This is so timely as I prepare for the Relay for Life in a few weeks. Once again Ali, your eloquence has expressed just what I needed to hear…to be reminded of what is “really” hard in this life and what really does and doesn’t matter! Love and hugs…Angie
Thank you for your response. My friend’s diagnosis has hit so close to home, because we walk the same path every day. I am sure you inspire your friends in the same way. You inspire me for sure. I can do hard things too!
Love it Ali. I will use your sentence many times in the next year. Keep them coming. You have such a great gift of speaking truth and inspiring people through your vulnerability. Thank you for helping us keep things in perspective.
Martz- you do hard things every day and I am so inspired by your work ethic and determination and commitment. Thank you for affirming me and the work I want to do. Ali
Now it is Phil who reminds me we have a gift from you on the computer. This reflection takes me back to my own courageous mother who was given the diagnosis of breast cancer as I prepared to leave for college in San Francisco. She insisted I go, as she continued to work and care for my two younger brothers. Having no idea of the seriousness of radiation treatments after her mastectomy, I did leave and could only lend my support in prayer and on the phone. We, too, survived and went on to enjoy our years together until her untimely (isn’t it always) death from a heart attack at age 73. Like you, I think of her when confronted with some minor task. She truly was and is my heart center. Bev
What a wonderful story Bev and I am so glad that your mother overcame her diagnosis and that you were able to walk through life together for many more years. I appreciate my time with my mother each and every time I see her. Her life is a gift to me! Thank you for commenting. I love hearing other people’s stories!
Ali, thank you for this beautiful story. I just love the way you write. I have now 3 people in my circle of friends dealing with breast cancer. Your words are an inspiration and I will pass them along with hope and love to those challenged with this disease. Thank you again.
Thanks Annie for reading and for sharing what I hope is an encouraging message. I know how easy I can get down on ‘what is’, when I really need to celebrate it. I will lift up all your friends in my prayers as well as Genni.
Ali – this is so beautiful and timely. Travis’ (at the ranch) wife was rushed to the hospital yesterday. Operated on today with a 10% survival rate. Travis, with a special needs child and a 7 month old put the kids in the car and drove in a snow storm 1 1/2 hours today to be with her. She made it through surgery. Will have another one in a day or two. Improved to 40% survival. Family is on their way. I will share this with him in a few days. He is strong, he will make it through all of this too, hopefully with his Melissa. You have an amazing perspective on life and we can all learn a lot from you, thank you for opening your heart and our eyes and ears! Cheers.
Thanks for sharing what is going on in your heart right now – who you love and what is hard for them. I will lift them up as well and keep them in mind when i think about what is hard. I so appreciate the feedback and the community we can build when we share our stories.
A dear friend shared this on her FB page and I am so glad she did. My niece will turn 21 in the next few weeks. She is beautiful, vibrant, funny, quirky, loving, smart, and cancer-free. At 16 she was diagnosed with leukemia and endured a fight we never could’ve possibly imagined. She did indescribably hard things with a steady and certain grace – an unshakable center that, despite all that whirled around her, would not be moved. So the night she was diagnosed, laying there in the bed receiving her first chemo treatment, she and I talked of many things. Among them was how we always wanted to go to Paris. Well, one week from tomorrow we leave for that trip! To traipse through cafes and museums and places we dreamed of…to go wherever we want. And that is a celebration that I feel might just make my heart explode. This post…blessed me so very much. Thank you.
What a celebration and a miracle! I am so glad to hear that your niece made it and that you are the kind of aunt who is taking her to celebrate! That is exactly who I want to be as an aunt as well – someone who loves whole-heartedly! Have a wonderful time. I know you will soak up each and every moment of joy and life.
So beautifully said. Thank you. I too am filled with love/worry/prayers for our mutual friend, and all who struggle with truly HARD challenges.
Challenges like these bring growth to everyone they touch. When my 25-year-old nephew died of lymphoma he taught all of us a lesson in dying with dignity. He also drove home a lesson in honest communication and loving commitment. When my youngest brother put aside his life for a month last summer and suffered in silence through the stem cell harvesting process that saved my eldest brother’s life, our already strong family unity moved to a previously unimagined level.
You are so right. We CAN do hard things. Working on them together betters us all. Thank you for sharing your insight. I’m glad this came into my facebook stream. I’ll have to keep an eye on your blog now.
I am so glad you have had a similar experience of hardship bringing unity and love to your family. It is so much better to stick together, instead of allowing things to tear us apart. Thanks for reading and taking the time to respond.
[…] one showed up when I thought of my friend who has cancer, the one I wrote about in “This Isn’t Hard.” I prayed extra hard for her to feel Love that day. Her heart looked a little […]